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Ardgroom stone circle, Beara Peninsula, Co. Kerry. 2000 Kim Richardson


The Institute should adopt a whole systems trans-disciplinary approach to archaeology which integrates knowledge and research from a variety of other fields including, inter alia, astronomy, archaeoastronomy, prehistory, palaeobotany, ethnobotany, climate studies, anthropology, comparative mythology, the study of local placenames and folklore, linguistics, art history, acoustics (because the performance of music in chambered cairns has been found to produce unusual Helmholtz resonance effects and may have been an integral feature of their design), statistical analysis, aerial photography, ground-penetrating radar imaging, surveying and geodesy (including the use of two- and three-dimensional GIS imaging systems).

The methodology should embrace the highest standards of scientific practice, adopt hypotheses with an open minded attitude, verify these against the available data, modify the hypotheses as necessary to accommodate any substantial new data that cannot be explained within an existing paradigm, subject such modified hypotheses to peer review, and formulate new theories where appropriate, publishing the results of its findings in a timely manner for peer review and public information.

The following outline will serve to illustrate how this methodology might be put into practice in the Irish context:

  1. Low-altitude aerial site survey by mobile team aboard helicopter and/or small plane, using digital photography and other imaging techniques when necessary, backed up by ground-level survey using GPS for precise positioning of sites.

  2. Development of a preliminary two-dimensional digital terrain model and GIS (Geographic Information System) map/database of the site's ground plan (using software such as CPAT, ARC/INFO and embedded GIS tools such as MapObjects), by downloading the images obtained from step 1 above (and from any previous surveys) onto a computer, enhancing or adapting them as needed, and then incorporating them with local topographical data (obtained from the Ordnance Survey Office) so as to obtain an accurate large-scale GIS map/model of the site.

  3. Ground-based examination of the site by means of extensive photography, local topographical survey, the use of multi-frequency electromagnetic profiling, ground-penetrating radar, caesium vapour magnetometry, and other subterranean sensing technology; checking for acoustic properties including Helmholtz resonance in chambered mounds; dating through calibrated radiocarbon analysis, palaeobotanical sampling and dendrochronology; examination of the number and sequence of kerb stones; and DNA sequencing and profiling of any human remains.

  4. Examination of the geographical and astronomical alignments and positions of passages, petroglyphs, and outlying marker stones, including their possible relations to other monuments within the same site and at remote locations. Determination of the astronomical alignment and illumination of objects (and the shadows cast upon them) by light beams from the sun and moon, to be established and documented through extensive field observations in situ, especially during solstices, equinoxes, cross-quarter days and other significant astronomical dates such as the major and minor lunar standstills. Determination of the geographical alignments to be established through statistical analysis of apparent crossover points, and the correlation of lines with mythology, historical records, and local placenames and folklore. Additional use of dowsing techniques could be used at this stage, if our proposed research programme establishes their usefulness.

  5. Construction of a three-dimensional GIS model of the site by incorporating the results of steps 2, 3 and 4 above.

  6. Use a three-dimensional astronomical computer model (such as are available from NASA/JPL) to track the apparent motion of the sun, moon and relevant stars as observable from the site's geographical coordinates – taking into account the topography of the locally-visible horizon, both now and for the estimated date of construction and period of astronomical use, not forgetting the expanded area of the apparenty visible horizon caused by the optical effect of the Earth's atmosphere.

  7. Application of the models and data obtained in steps 4, 5 and 6 above to precisely determine the dates and azimuths of geographical and astronomical alignments, light beams and illuminations that are incorporated into the site's design.

  8. Thorough trans-disciplinary investigation of the data obtained in steps 1 to 7 above by the Institute's staff and consultants, with due consideration of any pertinent historical and mythological references and local folklore. Disciplines that could be brought to bear at this point include astronomy, archaeoastronomy, ethnoastronomy, statistical analysis, ethnobotany, anthropology, comparative mythology, linguistics, the etymology of related mythological figures and placenames, and the art history of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

  9. Preparation of a detailed preliminary report of findings and preliminary action plan regarding any proposed excavation, renovation and/or conservation work., after steps 1 to 8 have been completed. Proposed excavation and renovation work should not be undertaken lightly.

  10. Publication of print and electronic versions of the complete report for peer review and feedback before implementation of the proposed action plan, and updating of this report with any significant new discoveries that are made as a result of research, excavation and/or restoration work.

  11. Repetition of steps 1 to 10 as necessary if any significant new discoveries are revealed in the course of the current or subsequent investigations, with consequent revision of excavation, renovation and conservation plans.

  12. Use of non-invasive research techniques whenever possible, reconstruction of sites only when really necessary, re-use of original structural designs and building materials wherever possible, no drastic alteration of a sites' appearance for the sake of attracting tourist revenues, no changing of the alignments or positions of passages and important or decorated stones, and general use of resource efficient, environmentally sustainable and aesthetically appropriate materials and equipment.

Please email your comments to Michael O'Callaghan at or contact him at this address.



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Updated 22 April 2001
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